Harriet and Isabella
When Henry Ward Beecher was put on trial for adultery in 1875, the question of his guilt or innocence was ferociously debated. His trial not only split the country, it split apart his family, causing a particularly bitter rift between his sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist. Harriet remained loyal to Henry, while Isabella called publicly for him to admit his guilt. What had been a loving, close relationship between two sisters plummeted into bitter blame and hurt.
Harriet and Isabella each had a major role in the social revolutions unfolding around them, but what happened in their hearts when they were forced to face a question of justice much closer to home? Now they struggle: who best served Henry -- the one who was steadfast or the one who demanded honesty?
Patricia O'Brien Discusses Her Latest Novel Harriet and Isabella
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Reading Group Guide
1. On page 10, Harriet tells a young Isabella that hypocrisy is the enemy of truth, the coward's way out. What circumstances prompt this moral proclamation, and how deeply does it affect Isabella?
2. Discuss Harriet's and Isabella's opinions of each other as each reflects on the past while Henry lies dying.
3. After seeing a woman struck by her disapproving husband at Anna Dickinson's speech in Hartford, Isabella realizes how closely paralleled are slavery and the treatment of women, especially underprivileged women. What similarities do you see in the abolition and women's suffrage movements and their philosophies as described in this novel? Do you agree that the situation of the slave and that of the nineteenth-century woman is similar? Why or why not?
4. Mary Beecher points out to Harriet that betrayal is never simple. Consider those characters accused of betrayal in this novel, such as Isabella, Frank Moulton, Elizabeth Tilton, and Victoria Woodhull. Why do you think these characters did what they did?
5. Henry is furious with Isabella, yet Harriet is the one who leads the family in ostracizing her. How much of Isabella's supposed betrayal does Harriet take personally? What clues tell you that Harriet's outrage and hurt may be more about Harriet herself than on Henry's behalf?
6. How does Isabella's role as the "baby" of the family affect how she leads her see more